I’ve just had a count up, over the 50 albums that have featured in the ‘Nearly Perfect Albums or its sister series ‘Someone Else’s Nearly Perfect Albums’, more than half of them have been debut albums which is an interesting statistic. This weeks offering is another debut album from a band who pretty much need no introduction.
Like last weeks offering this album would have featured in the main ‘Nearly Perfect Album’ series but luckily for us, someone else is going to tell us all about it – and do it far better than I could ever do. That person is The Robster and the album is ‘Murmur’ by R.E.M.
I think I’ll keep this one short, for a few reasons:
1) There’s very little left to be said about R.E.M.’s debut album that hasn’t already been said several hundred times over. Swiss Adam, in particular, wrote this brilliant piece last year which I can’t even hope to improve upon:
2) I’ve written so much about this band that I daresay you don’t need/want to read even more of my fawning guff;
3) If you haven’t already listened to it and loved it like it’s your favourite warm, snugly blanket on a cold winter’s evening, then quite frankly you really need to stop reading music blogs and go and dig a hole in the woods to lie in for a few hundred years.
I was still three months short of my 12th birthday when ‘Murmur’ hit the shelves in April 1983, so obviously R.E.M. were not on my radar down in deepest darkest Devon. It would take nearly five years before its charms entered my life – December 1987, to be precise. Up to that point, my knowledge of Georgia’s finest was their then most recent two albums – ‘Document’ and its immediate predecessor ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’. Inspired, I sought out the band’s back catalogue and ‘Murmur’ became my third R.E.M. record. It sounded so very different to those louder, brasher, politically-charged later offerings. It sounded introverted and mysterious.
Let’s not focus on the 60s-tinged music or Stipe’s impenetrable, often cryptic lyrics – many before me have written about all that far better than I ever could. Instead, let’s just touch on what makes ‘Murmur’ a “nearly perfect” album – its songs. The re-recorded version of debut single Radio Free Europe benefits from two added years of gigging and studio work, arguably resulting in an improvement on the original (though the band members themselves tend to disagree). Pilgrimage is one of my personal faves. I like the way it builds to the chorus with Stipe’s ascending vocal: “The pilgrimage has gained momentum.” Then that triple-vocal attack in the chorus with Stipe, Mills and Berry playing off each other effortlessly like they’d been doing it for 30 years rather than less than 3.
Radio Free Europe – R.E.M (1983, I.R.S Records)
Pilgrimage – R.E.M (1983, I.R.S Records)
Perfect Circle is a long-standing fan favourite and one of Bill Berry’s first significant contributions, and it was an immediate standout on my first listen. Sitting Still is, and I doubt anyone will disagree with me on this (and if you do, you’re wrong!), one of the greatest non-single album tracks of all time.
Perfect Circle – R.E.M (1983, I.R.S Records)
Sitting Still – R.E.M (1983, I.R.S Records)
BUT – ‘Murmur’ isn’t perfect, only nearly perfect. We Walk is disposable, a b-side at best, while 9-9 is just a bit too weird for an album of shimmering delights like this, although it might well be I’d miss it if it wasn’t there.
The plaudits, acclaim and all-round love for ‘Murmur’ has never abated. It was hailed by critics on its release, it is hailed by critics and fans nearly 40 years on. And it still sounds like an absolutely essential part of anyone’s music collection.